It’s not just Georgia — it’s Pennsylvania too

On March 25, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed major election legislation into law. Kemp did so in a locked room surrounded by white men, under a painting that Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch discovered was of a Georgia plantation that had more than 100 slaves.

Outside the closed room where Kemp was signing away Georgian’s rights, Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon, a young Black, queer woman, was knocking on the door to be let in. State police dragged her from the door and arrested her. A small group of eight Black women kept asking police why they were arresting Cannon as she kept insisting that under the law she had a right to witness the signing.

Cannon was charged with multiple felonies and on March 30, one of the officers said he feared that there was a “January 6 situation” looming.

Eight Black women, yards away, dressed in business attire, were taping him on their phones and he said that was comparable to an armed mob of hundreds of white male insurrectionists violently attacking Capitol police.

The day after the signing, President Biden called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity.” He said one of the law’s restrictions — disallowing anyone from giving Georgia voters standing in long lines water — was “obviously punitive.”

Biden also said the Justice Department is “taking a look” at the Georgia law. “We’re working on that right now,” Biden told reporters as he was boarding a helicopter to return to Delaware for the weekend. “We don’t know quite exactly what we can do at this point.”

It’s not just Georgia. The Brennan Center reports that GOP legislators have introduced over four times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to this time last year. Thirty-three states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 165 restrictive bills in 2021 as compared to 35 such bills in fifteen states at this time in 2020. These bills curtail voting rights in a myriad of ways from requiring voter ID to restricting access to polling places, polling times and mail-in ballots.

When the Justice Department is done with Georgia, they might want to look at Pennsylvania, which is the worst on the Brennan Center’s list of egregious voter suppression states.

Between June 2020 and the Inauguration, I wrote nearly two dozen pieces for multiple mainstream and other news outlets, including PGN, on efforts by the Trump administration, the Pennsylvania state assembly and various Republicans to suppress and then overturn the vote in Pennsylvania.

Both Trump sons, Eric and Donald Jr. came to Philadelphia to attempt to interfere in early voting at the Liacouras Center on Temple University’s campus where Philadelphians could obtain mail-in ballots and turn them in.

Pennsylvania had open mail-in ballots for the first time in history in the June 2020 primary, which was when Trump decided it was an illegal process and began fighting it.

Pennsylvania was always pivotal to both Biden and former President Trump in winning the election. And Pennsylvania was the state that clinched the election for Biden on Nov. 7, just days after the election, when the vote count in Philadelphia ended.

That same day, Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and Trump’s attorney, held a bizarre press conference in Holmesburg, outside the Four Seasons Total Landscaping business, nestled between a porn shop and a deli. Giuliani had meant to hold the press conference at the Center City hotel, but got confused. He called the vote count illegal and vowed to overturn the election results.

For months I was in frequent contact with Al Schmidt, City Commissioner of Philadelphia, who oversaw the voting in Philadelphia.

Despite threats to him and his family, threats which included beheading, Schmidt protected the vote in Pennsylvania with his literal life. He made sure access was never denied and gave regular vote tabulations.

But Schmidt, a Republican, is singular among Pennsylvania GOP who are committed to putting Pennsylvania on the map as the state with the worst voter repression and suppression in the nation.

In February, the Brennan Center, a bipartisan law and public policy institute, published its Voting Laws Roundup 2021 report. According to the Brennan Center report, Pennsylvania has Georgia beat as the pivot for 14 legislative proposals to restrict or complicate access to voting — the most of any state.

Among the restrictions Pennsylvania’s GOP legislators are introducing are measures that will return Pennsylvania to the pre-pandemic rules on mail-in ballots. Those required that voters who want to vote by mail request a ballot prior to every election. The PA GOP wants to rescind the new vote-by-mail list.

PA Republicans also want to give poll watchers greater access to observe mail-in ballot tabulation, which Trump and his sons claimed was essential to fair voting. They held press conferences asserting that they were banned from observing, asserting that signaled not adherence to the state law that bans outside interference in voting or threatening of voters, but a sinister plot to steal votes.

Trump and his cohort referred to his attempts to overturn the election as “Stop the Steal.”

The PA GOP will also require signature matches on outer envelopes and the mail-in ballots inside and exclude all mail-in ballots, regardless of postmark, that are not received by election day.

What makes these restrictive policies particularly galling is that they reverse state lawmaker’s own bipartisan efforts to expand voting access to everyone before the pandemic.

The Brennan Center reports that 28 states are putting forward bills that would restrict voting just as Georgia has. But the Pennsylvania GOP legislators passed voting reforms in tandem with their Democratic colleagues in October 2019 that made voting by mail accessible to all Pennsylvanians and also relaxed the deadline to postmark, not the delivery, of mail-in ballots.

There was no question that the GOP and Trump 2020 election attacks on Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee — all Black-dominant Democratic strongholds in key swing states — were racist.

And Pennsylvania was the state that congressional Republicans tried to decertify on Jan. 6. As recently as March 29, Trump told Fox News that he won the vote in Pennsylvania when he did not.

For Philadelphia — the birthplace of liberty, the seat of the drafting and signing of the Constitution and America’s first capital — the attack on our votes felt especially personal and heinous.

That attack is not over. Pennsylvania’s GOP legislators want to restrict our access to vote. And it is not less a return to Jim Crow nor an atrocity here, well above the Mason-Dixon Line, than it is in Georgia. The fight for our votes and our voice continues.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.